Colin Shaw recently told us about his project Living with the Wild, where he looks at the relationship people have with the land they work with. Especially where these people live in inhospitable and remote locations, which includes many of the Islands around the coasts of the UK and Scotland.
My work combined a long held interest in both landscape photography and portraiture. The portraits are often of people who work on the land. I do not see this as a contradiction because I have come to believe that people are of the land. It is where we come from, what sustains us and is where we return after death. It cannot be anything else because this is the planet on which we live, there is no other source of life. The relationship of people with their landscape is more than just about a sense of place. Landscape has an effect on people from the practical difficulties involved with living in remote or inhospitable locations to how we use land for survival. Some see that as a battle while others find a deep sense of harmony and work with what they have. Over the years I have travelled to remote corners of the UK including most of the Scottish Islands. Each has its unique environment and each produces people shaped by their surroundings. In recent years I have visited Holy Island, or Lindisfarne. It is a unique place which epitomises the relationship between people and place. The enforced tidal isolation experienced twice daily and the huge influx of tourists creates pressure on the land and the people. In the long term Holy Island is vulnerable to rising sea levels and will be eventually lost to the sea.
In many ways this is where all of my previous work comes together. It is a unique location which involves a deep involvement with the environment. That has to shape the community and affect the daily lives of the inhabitants. On a visit this year I spoke with a man whose family had lived on the island for several generations. His sense of place, of home, and commitment to the island was enormous. I want to use photography to explore these relationships, to understand the community and the landscape and how each affects the other. And to produce a documentation of a place that will eventually disappear. That has a universal meaning with many other low lying islands in a similar position.
The favourite part of the project is to spend time an extended period time on the island, being part of it, experiencing the isolation and understanding how people live from day-to-day. It is difficult to put into words but I have come to feel a strong attachment to the place. The least favourite are the very things that make it special, the difficulties in getting there, the logistics and planning required for every-day life. Although that sometimes merges with the favourite aspects of the project!
The sea, the weather, the people, the history, the diversity, the emotions I feel when I am there. The idea for the project came from a long standing interest in island communities. I visited Orkney and Shetland over a period of nearly 20 years. Spent an enforced Christmas on Lewis and have been to most of the other Scottish Islands. What attracts me is the relationship between the physical communities and the that the land supports. It brings into sharp focus the way that people interact with the land and the way that shapes communities. I do not think that produces a perfect community, or a romantic way of life. It is more about overcoming the harsh realities of everyday life.
After many visits to Lindisfarne over the last few years it became apparent that it is unique. Isolated yet accessible and visited by thousands of people. Add the that the hundreds of years of habitation and it becomes a special place.
Many islands are low lying, sometimes only a few metres above the water that surrounds them. They have always suffered the impact of storms but the ongoing rise in sea levels poses a greater threat. Many islands will disappear in the coming years and those communities that remain will face a difficult time. Now is the time to make a record of the people and the place.
There are many challenges with such a project; logistical, photographic and human. The first can be overcome with good preparation and I have completed several large projects that have required a similar amount of research and planning.
The way that the technical aspects of the photography are handled always depends on the final outcome. For this project I see the finished project as a book and an exhibition. As such I will use a high resolution digital camera that I know can produce outstanding quality prints up to B0 (1500mm x 10000mm.) The images will be both landscapes and portraits – land and people. I have worked in a similar way before.
The biggest issue will be gaining the acceptance of the community. This will take time but from the people I spoke to in 2016 I am optimistic. Also, I grew up in an isolated rural environment so know something of what it is like to live in such places.
I want the project to convey something of the feeling of what it is like to live there. To show that it is not an idyllic, romantic rural retreat but is working community. When I am there I valued the quietness and peace of the place, that is something I hope I can share through photography.
Over the years much of my work has centred on the rural as I felt that is photographically under represented. Much contemporary photography that does exist focusses on the picturesque and includes images of bucolic workers without sufficient context to understand what is happening. I have always wanted to steer away from the romantic rural idyll. That will be a crucial but difficult aim of the project.
My next project will be to visit other islands and coastal communities that are under threat from rising sea levels. The idea being to document the communities while they still exist. The recent severe flood warning issued as a results of the expected storm surge down the North Sea highlighted the fragility of many coastal areas. With an expected sea level rise of 1m-2m by the end of the century it is only a matter of time before some/many of these places disappear or become uninhabitable.
I have family ties to the North East going back several generations.
My educational background in photography and the arts is:
1979 – 82 Coventry Polytechnic, BA (Hons) Communication Studies. 2.1.
Options included, photography, video, sound and art history.
1982-83 City of Birmingham Polytechnic, MA Graphic Design (visual communication)
Photographic projects included a documentation of the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter and work with YTS projects in Birmingham. The Jewellery Quarter project resulted in an Ikon gallery touring exhibition.
2013-15 Nottingham Trent University, MA photography (Distinction) Project about the representation of the rural resulting in an exhibition of 10, A0 prints mounted on Diabond which was shown at Buxton Museum & Art Gallery Feb – April 2016. The gallery has now decided to purchase the whole exhibition for their permanent display.
Artist name: Colin Shaw
Title: Living with the Wild